Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Here's the Beef!

Remember my little steers that arrived in the Spring of 2009?

Well, they grew beautifully into nicely finished animals. Their hanging weights ended up at 633lbs and 728lbs. I sold the larger one to a family and split the smaller one with another family. Every year there is something new to be learned about growing steers as big as possible in the time frame and doing it as inexpensively as possibly without compromising the quality or sustainability.

The steers are pastured here from when they arrive in the spring into early fall. Every day they are fed a little grain not only to put on weight but to also train them to come when called. I call it "Grain Train". They are not expected to be pets by any stretch but it does come in handy to have them come running when you want to check on them or when one finds a hole in the fence. Shake that bucket of grain and they usually come a running.

Our 20 acres is all pasture of varying quality with the best 5 acres surrounding the house. It is sloping and spring-fed thus stays green from spring into fall. We generally do not have to supplement this forage with hay until mid to late September.

September is when the real graining begins. This is increased every month until the first week of January when the steers are slaughter. Usually the steers are fed a good quality grass hay but this season the hay farmer I purchase from lost his lease on his grass fields and only had alfalfa available.

The great thing about cattle is that you can feed them a lower quality of hay than require for horses. I do not mean lowsy forage that was bailed into hay but good hay that may be at the bottom of the stack and be dirty or slightly moldy on one side. The only shortcomings should be cosmetic and only "skin deep". My hay supplier will generally sell this hay to me at a discount of a third off the price. This year he had beautiful second cutting alfalfa hay that he was selling for $150 a ton and let us have it for $100 a ton.

One ton of hay per steer is usually what is required to feed the animals until their January slaughter dates. Sometimes it's more sometimes less depending on when the pasture gives out.

Slaughter dates have to be made somewhat in advance depending on the time of year. I used to have the steers slaughter in November or December but now we moved it out to the first week of January. This way we are past the hunting season rush at the processors and past the crazy holiday time for us.

The "meat guys" , as my daughter calls them, are always the harshest critics of how well we did finishing the steers. They are kind of like the final exam in the school of beef raising for me and there's no way to cheat to get a better grade. (Not that I would cheat! LOL) But this year I got an A+! The steers were covered with just the right amount of fat and the meat is beautifully marbled.

I have been raising beef every year since 1997 and I think I finally have it figured out. I think! ;)

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